The “Conservation Compass”

By Paul Walters

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Paul Walters brick rubbing at Hampton Court Palace with Emma Simpson

It has been a few months since we embarked on the incredible journey that is the William Morris Craft Fellowship and it has not disappointed! We have visited an incredible amount of sites, varying in architectural style, function and grandeur. However, I have always been just as interested in the ethos of the people working on these sites as I have been in the buildings themselves.

As a small business owner it can get very difficult trying to get the balance right when establishing one’s boundaries to repairing, conserving and/or restoring a building, and having spent a significant amount of time these past few months with a variety of craftspeople and conservation professionals, it is reassuring to know that everyone has such dilemmas. There are a few obvious avenues that affect the ability to carry out works in the manner which is perceived as “textbook” or the “SPAB way”, this is perhaps true north on our conservation compass. On sites, this magnetic pull towards our true north is disrupted by numerous and perhaps inevitable complications that will make us deviate from our path. Perhaps the strongest influence is the client. A lot of clients want to ‘modernise’ a building, to the peril of the character that makes the building desirable in the first instance. But equally detrimental is that of personal ambition of specifiers, architects and craftspeople. We can all get blinded by our own version of doing what’s right, whilst trying to manage what the client wants. Some value some eras more than others, some crafts or work more than others.

Fortunately, one could argue that we’re better off having a compass in the first instance? Knowing where true north is serves us in good stead, regardless of whether we choose to utilise it to its full potential. Its reassuring to know that even the most knowledgeable and experienced people go through similar turmoil when making important decisions, before putting the stamp of our era on such amazing buildings.

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Scholars on the road again

By Aoife Murphy

As our first month draws to a close we have been thinking about what has jumped out at us the most. We couldn’t actually choose though. This nonstop month has thrown so much exciting information our way.

I have particularly enjoyed trying out the trades. We have had the opportunity to try work in a forge, plaster using materials like wattle and daub, carve lime wood, carve chalk stone, hew timber and rub bricks. This has given me a new appreciation for the detail and skill involved.

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Blacksmithing with Owlsworth IJP

We’ve had a chance to visit well-known beautiful places such as Canterbury Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace. However we got a different view to most people. We got to go up on roofs, behind closed doors and into the workshops.

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Scholars and Fellows at Hampton Court Palace

Every site visit has been unique and interesting for a different reason. The smaller sites such as Brook Hall and Landguard Fort have been fascinating as the work being carried out tries to be respectful to previous reincarnations of the building.

The people we have visited every day are so passionate about their work. It’s a pleasure listening to their stories. My favourite topic is how they have fallen into conservation. Everyone has a unique path into the area. There is no direct route. You have to seek it out.

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Aoife woodworking

For the first two weeks we got to spend a lot of time with the Fellows. This is something I feel should be encouraged as much as possible. The different knowledge and points of view open great dialogue and discussion.

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Find our updates on Instagram at #spabscholar2017

Celebrating 30 years of SPAB Fellowship

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the SPAB Fellowship. Founded to nurture craftspeople at the beginning of their career and introduce them to building conservation whilst also allowing them to develop their own craft. This unparalleled experience encourages hands-on learning and a passion for building conservation. We’ve trained over 100 Fellows, from all over the country, working in many different trades. SPAB Fellows are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable craftspeople, and work on some of the most important buildings in the UK.

We’re celebrating with three videos featuring some Fellows from the past 30 years. Last autumn we caught up with them at their place of work: Alex Gibbons (cob builder, 2014 Fellow), Helen Bower (stained glass conservator, 2001 Fellow) and Ray Stevens (stonemason, 1987 Fellow).

 

Ray Stevens, stonemason at Calke Abbey

 

Alex Gibbons, self-employed cob builder based in Cumbria

 

Helen Bower, stained glass conservator, filmed at York Glaziers Trust

 

Read more on the background of the Fellowship in the spring 2017 issue of the SPAB Magazine, reaching SPAB members by mid March.

Building conservation in Ireland – an Irish Scholar’s perspective

By Triona Byrne

For two countries so close to each other geographically, Ireland and England have very different attitudes to building conservation. We spent two weeks in Ireland recently as part of the Scholarship, and after living in the UK for 6 months, it was eye-opening to see the contrast in built heritage first-hand, and explore the socio-economic reasons that have led to this.

There are myriad explanations for the obvious contrast, not least that the two countries have had mightily different histories – while England has a history of colonisation, Ireland’s past is brimming with invasions and conflict, up until very recently. Economic reasons also play a huge role. Ireland’s economic cycles tend to fluctuate wildly, with drastic cycles of ‘boom and bust’, whereas Britain’s economy has smaller cycles of recession and prosperity. This has a huge impact on the construction industry and the finance available for conservation projects, which also impacts the lure of construction or an apprenticeship/trade as an attractive career path for young people.

Ireland’s building stock includes several structures surviving from prehistoric times – places like Newgrange, a stone age passage tomb, along with many ring forts, dolmens and burial tombs. However these are not as easy to spot as the early medieval round tower, a common sight on the skyline. Although these are not uniquely Irish, a vast number were built around the country from 500 to 700 AD when Ireland was made up of many monastic settlements. Ireland became known as ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars’ due to the flourishing arts and learning of this time, when the rest of Europe was struggling through the Dark Ages. The round towers built at this time were defensive structures, with tiny windows and doorways several metres above the ground, accessed by a retractable rope ladder. Irish round towers are unique in that they have a stone cap, unlike similar round towers built elsewhere in Europe at this time.

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Irish round tower

More common again are ruined structures from the time of Norman and Anglo-Norman invasions, dotted around the countryside. The tower house, the ubiquitous building of this era, was a tall, defensive, stone structure, designed to keep out invaders and provide a good vantage point around the surrounding land. These structures had thick walls, narrow windows (or none at all) and defensive features such as machicolations. These were clearly not ideal living conditions, and so it is not surprising that they were abandoned and let fall to ruin as the Middle Ages drew to a close. However it is interesting to contrast the buildings of this time with those being built in England, where a typical village was comprised of a church, a manor house and timber framed cottages. This village structure was not possible in Ireland, where attacks and invasions were a regular occurrence and a strong defensive building was the optimal home. Peasants of this time lived in small mud huts with a roof of organic matter, none of which survive to this day.

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Ruins of an Irish tower

Between the 12th and the 20th century, the Irish and English fought bitterly for control over Ireland. During this time, the English were generally the stronger side and under their reign, much of Ireland’s culture was suppressed, including the Irish language, traditions and religion. This influenced the building of churches – the Penal Laws stated that “when allowed, new Catholic Churches were to built of wood, not stone, and away from main roads”. Hence the majority of Catholic churches in Ireland today were built in Victorian times.

Probably the most famous Irish building is the traditional Irish cottage. These cottages were built by and for farming families, usually with a stone plinth, earth/cob walls and thatched roofs. Windows were very small, due to the cost of glass (particularly while there was a window tax) and the cottages were one-room deep. This one-room depth was most likely due to the length of timbers available to form the typically A-framed roof.

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A sketch of a thatched cottage near Portlaoise

There were predominantly two types of cottage layout – one where the front door opened directly into a parlour (where the hearth was located) and with bedrooms at either end of the house. The second type had a front door opening in to a small lobby, which was created by a jamb wall standing perpendicular to the hearth. Some jamb walls had a “spy window” that allowed a person sitting at the hearth to see anyone entering the house.

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Typical cottage layouts

For me, these buildings define the Irish countryside and its history. They are part of our heritage and represent the industrious farming people who built them. Unfortunately, my views do not seem to be shared by the mainstream Irish public. The majority of these cottages are being left to fall into ruin.

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Ruined cottage

As people today generally want houses with large, open-plan spaces and modern conveniences, they abandon the humble cottage and build new, contemporary buildings on the same plot of land. This results in the high number of ruined cottages that are all over the countryside. This is a sad state of affairs, and is in contrast to the UK where old buildings will usually be adapted for modern use. However the British approach can also be to the detriment of the building, as original walls are ripped out to create “bright, open living spaces”, which historic buildings are not famous for, and inappropriate materials are used. Neither the British or Irish approach is ideal, and it should be applauded when an old building is accepted for what it is and carefully conserved using traditional methods. We saw an excellent example of this in Stansfield, Suffolk recently where we spent a day with Bill Sargent limewashing an old thatched wattle-and-daub cottage that is being sympathetically repaired.

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Rose Cottage, Stansfield, Suffolk

Since Ireland achieved independence nearly 100 years ago (excluding Northern Ireland), Irish people have taken strides to distance themselves from the poverty and oppression that maintained a stronghold on the country for so long. This sadly includes many of the beautiful buildings that were built by British landlords and landowners from the 17th to the 19th century, many of which were destroyed or else let fall to ruin. It also includes the humble cottages and farm buildings that are a reminder of the poverty of the past. Ireland’s lack of a large public funding body for built heritage like the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK, and organisations like the National Trust and the SPAB, all contribute to this lack of appreciation for building conservation. However, I believe the attitude of the general public is slowly changing and Irish people are beginning to realise that our rich built heritage is a valuable and unique asset that must be protected. I am hopeful that the philosophies of the SPAB can spread to Ireland and that there can be a shift in the public perception of our past and the beautiful buildings that connect us to it.

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Lismore Castle in Ireland where the Scholars stayed for a week

Cathedral Week

By Gethin Harvey

The cathedral week provides Scholars with an insight into the organisational structures associated with the running of cathedrals, and philosophies relating to their care, maintenance and repair. It is made possible through partnership with the Cathedral Architects Association and this year was organised by Nick Cox Architects at Winchester Cathedral.

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Winchester Cathedral

With the majority of my practical experience being with parish churches I’ve seen how dwindling congregations can lead to reduced usage of the buildings, shortage of funds for essential repairs and eventual redundancy. It was therefore of particular interest, to visit Winchester Cathedral to see how the balance is struck between liturgical function and financial responsibilities without compromising the sanctity of the place with overwhelming numbers of tourists. To aid our understanding we met with the receiver general, operations manager, enterprise manager, director of learning, head of marketing and communications as well as the head verger to discuss their individual roles and responsibilities.

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Scholars observing the paint conservation work at Winchester Cathedral

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Paint conservation on the bosses at Winchester Cathedral

Famously underpinned by the diver William Walker after the beech log raft foundations rotted causing the south transept to subside, the cathedral and its subsidiary buildings host a diverse range of conservation issues. These range from large scale structural works through to the conservation of rare decorative features such as the medieval encaustic tiles in the retrochoir. The cathedral currently has a £24.5 million conservation deficit on top of the £4 million a year required to keep it open; a vast amount of work, made more complicated by the logistics required to carry out the extensive programme of repairs without the disruption of services and events.

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Winchester Cathedral choir stalls

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Encaustic tiles

We were also able to meet the craftspeople to discuss the multiple repair projects which are progressing simultaneously, including:

– The meticulous work by Ruth McNeilage to remove the cream coloured, 20th century paint from the foliate bosses and conserve the historic paintwork beneath.

– Works to the windows by Steve Clare, to re-lead and replace missing glass where required, as well as introducing conservation glazing to stained glass panels.

Masonry repairs and repointing is being undertaken by the in-house stonemasons. Discussing the works with them highlighted the benefits of having a continuity of craftspeople and accumulated knowledge of the building. This level of knowledge is to be developed through detailed recording and documentation being carried out by Jon Crook and Peter Ferguson to provide a database of information on the cathedral’s construction which will prove invaluable for future projects.

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Stone letter carving by Scholars

Part of the new The Kings and Scribes project is to create new interpretation and exhibitions around the 12th century illuminated Winchester Bible; it will be at the centre of new exhibitions in the south transept. The proposal includes the installation of a lift which will puncture through an existing groin vault to provide access to the triforium. Whilst the impetus to make historical assets accessible to all is a laudable approach, the level of intervention required to make this a reality could result in disproportionate loss of the historic fabric we are trying to conserve and in this scenario we’d have preferred seeing something less intrusive.

We would like to thank all those involved for a great week and the CAA for their generous contributions to make it possible.

Protect our vernacular buildings

by Declan Cahill

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Stone cottage in the Peak District

Over the past five months we have travelled across most parts of England and have ventured into Wales and Scotland, which has shown me the variety of the vernacular buildings we have been lucky enough to inherit. As my favourite type of building, I love to see how these buildings vary from each other, how little details have been ingeniously introduced, how the building has developed with time and how the building sits within a landscape.

Vernacular buildings are those that are typical to a locality, that are made from local materials and by local craftspeople (and sometimes even just local people without a craft) and usually have no input from a surveyor, architect or engineer. After reading the various studies by Clifton-Taylor, Brunskill, John and Jane Penoyre and the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working group I have started to feel that the gap between traditional construction and modern construction is ever-increasing.

Criss-crossing the country, we have been able to visit and see how buildings change in their form and materials. From the use of different stones, timber, brick, earth, lime, metal and glass on a building to the different forms of the timber frame, the stone farmsteads of Wales, Cumbria and Scotland, to the brick buildings in Cheshire and Shropshire and the earth buildings of the Solway Plain to suggest just a few. The variety of buildings that we have encountered has been truly remarkable.

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Field barn of the Peak District

However, one thing has become apparent to me over the last couple of months, our vernacular buildings and culture of building vernacularly is under threat. If we are going to save our traditions and our vernacular buildings we need to look into why they are at risk.

The knowledge and skill of the local craftspeople is being lost. This is partly due to the generation of local craftspeople retiring and their knowledge not being passed on. The current education system is also partly to blame for not providing opportunities to learn traditional building methods and only teaching modern construction skills. Modern cavity-based construction has become the norm whilst solid wall construction a rarity.

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Clay dabbin of the Solway Plain

In some respects the demand for traditionally built buildings has decreased. This is due to previous generations growing up in these vernacular buildings that weren’t properly maintained and stigmatising them as cold and drafty places to live. Those that take on our vernacular buildings do not always fully understand the materials and requirements of the building. The ventilation and breathability that are fundamental to a traditionally constructed building mean they are often mislabelled as drafty and inefficient. The movement of moisture through solid wall construction is perceived as a damp wall and inappropriate materials are used.

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Clay tile and lime render of Essex

The building regulations and our current standards of construction have been built on modern building methods, completely dismissing traditional construction. This has lead to unbefitting extensions to our historic buildings that aren’t constructed traditionally and use inappropriate materials. Modern buildings built in the countryside are often constructed and designed inappropriately. These buildings are being classed as vernacular when all they really do is use a local material for one aspect of the building.

We have become detached from the materials within our local geography and geology. The importation of materials from further afield is apparent on the majority of construction sites today. Recently at the annual Building Limes Forum conference Ben Bosence talked of the use of local aggregates and how he had researched what aggregates were available 100m, 1Km, 5Km, 10Km and 20Km from his house. The presentation was a timely reminder of how we need to reconnect with our locality.

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Timber frame and thatch in Oxfordshire

On our travels we have seen signs of hope for our ability to conserve our vernacular buildings and hopefully construct traditionally. From Richard Jordan teaching traditional construction skills in Derbyshire, to the projects we have visited in North Wales, the Peak District, Cumbria and Scotland. I can only hope that the meticulous attention given to our cathedrals and country houses is applied to the vernacular buildings that make our countryside so rich and unique.

The philosophy of repair

by Declan Cahill

Over the past couple of weeks we have visited sites where we have been told about various approaches to the treatment of historic stonework. This has got us debating, discussing, agreeing and disagreeing about which approach would be the best one in each situation. As someone who believes that not one rule can be applied to all situations, I have found it very interesting to look at these approaches and to think if I would do the same, and if not what the alternatives might be. Since 1887 the Society and its members have been fighting for the timeless beauty of historic buildings that comes naturally with age. But what is important and sets each approach apart is what level of intervention is required to stave off decay, and that we do not lose this beauty by being too heavy handed in our intervention.

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Villa Saraceno

Recently we were very lucky to be invited to Villa Saraceno with the Landmark Trust. You can read more about our trip in a forthcoming blog post. Here I am going to touch on the approach they are taking towards the preservation of the stonework at the villa. The villa is predominantly brick built and rendered, with stone detailing to the windows and doors. The stone is a white limestone that was used in most of Palladio’s buildings. During our visit we got the chance to learn from Serse and Katrin from PT Color, who explained the methods they were using to preserve the stone and minimize the loss of flaking stone from a door jamb.

The conservators were using lime-based consolidants for flakes with larger openings and an acrylic resin on the finer flakes. The edges of the flakes were then closed using a lime-based mortar. On an annual basis the conservators visit the site and try to prolong the life of the worst delaminating stone. This painstaking process is very admirable, but on further discussion it’s important to think about the other factors that inform this decision.

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Stone consolidation at Villa Saraceno

Firstly the significance of the villa, it is an early incomplete example of Palladio’s design that incorporated the functionality of the farmstead with the grandeur and geometry of the country retreat. The white limestone of the area is inherently a softer limestone and the jamb that was being worked on faced the north west, thus exposing the stone to the worst weather conditions. The conservators’ argument against using shelter coats was that you would not see the original stone face. Do we let the stone age and decay, accepting that the stone will one day need replacing, or do we do our utmost to prolong the life of the stone? Are we preventing the stone from gracefully aging? And if we are to intervene at what stage do we begin this intervention?

Just seven days after standing in front of the door jamb at Villa Saraceno, we were back on English soil and visiting St. Leonard’s Middleton Parish Church to look at the south porch of this medieval church that has had minimum intervention since its conception in 1412. The parish’s website describes the porch as ‘romantically crumbling away’ and it is exactly this romanticism that the church is at risk of losing.

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‘Romantic’ south porch at St Leonard’s church

The parish has decided that now is the time for intervention, and the church architect’s proposal is to de-frass the stonework to give it a ‘carved’ face again. We were able to see a test panel that had been produced by a stonemason for discussion.

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Examples panels of de-frassed stonework

It is important to add that the present stonework is laminating but there isn’t any excessive loss of stone; it is in a state that is beautiful to look at due to the natural patina of age. By taking this approach the church’s aesthetic will be altered forever and layers will be lost from its history. We can only hope that the parish see what they will be losing and that a more respectful approach will be chosen.

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Natural patina to the south porch stonework

The case at Middleton reminded me of the origins of the SPAB when the Society was also known as the ‘Anti Scrape Society’. The Society was founded on a belief that we should approach the repair of historic fabric with minimum intervention and only act to prevent future damage. We must respect the original craftsperson’s work; that is currently in danger of being forgotten at Middleton but is being championed at Saraceno.

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Paint and plaster conservation at Gorton Monastery

Another site visit has taken us to Gorton Monastery, where Alan Gardener is applying these meticulous preservation and consolidation techniques to the consolidation of Victorian (and later) wall paintings, plaster and stone. Seeing similar techniques to those at Villa Saraceno being applied at Gorton is a timely reminder that we need to approach our work with respect and that historic fabric, no matter how old, has significance.

Reuse and Repair

by Joanna Daykin

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory
This little known National Trust property, was initially formed as the chantry chapel of St Nicholas in the 14th-century, funded by the first Baron Beauchamp. Today the site is little used, except by the local farmer to graze his sheep. While at the property with 2009 Scholar Meriel O’Dowd we were encouraged to think about possible reuse opportunities for the collection of buildings. We discussed how reusing a few buildings can generate sufficient income for their maintenance and the repair of other buildings on the site.

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

The stables at Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory

 

Court House, Chard
The Manor Court House in Chard was built in 1540, straddling a burgage plot running back from the main Street. The Court House decorated with early Tudor strap work is mostly still intact. Many changes to the surrounding building having mutilated the original plan form. However a new business plan which proposes that the buildings be made into a number of flats reserving the court room for functions was discussed. Even though this will possibly lead to dramatic alterations it may conserve the court room and its beautiful plaster, providing a viable future and use for what is now a decaying and poorly maintained building.

Plaster at Court House Chard

Plaster at Court House Chard

Shell Grotto
This folly in the gardens of St Giles was extensively repaired as part of a DEFRA Parkland Grant. The initial inspection could only be undertaken after it was excavated from a mass of vegetation overgrowth. Decayed roofs and piles of shells were found beneath. A process of sorting and cleaning along with investigation into its original decoration was painstakingly undertaken. Sally Strachey Conservation carried out the repairs in two phases, first by pinning and strengthening the ceiling from above and replacing the roof. Only then were they able to restore the fantastic interior by pinning and reprinting in the shells.

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Shell Grotto, St Giles

Wimborne St Giles
The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury built Wimborne St Giles in 1651 in the classical Renaissance style. The house expanded over the years, but became too unruly and in the 19th century about a third of the house was pulled down. The house fell into further disrepair and in 2001 the house was put on English Heritage’s at Risk Register. When the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury inherited the house he not only halted the building’s decline but began to renew the house’s former beauty. Panelling and artefacts removed and stored throughout the estate were returned to the house and the grand rooms of the house restored. The most dramatically repaired room was the dining room where only part of the panelling survives. A decision was made to keep the panelling in its partial condition and the room decorated and hung with paintings for reuse. Other rooms in the house await their repair as new funds are generated through the reuse of the grand ground floor rooms.

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The works in the house were approached with a different philosophy to the shell grotto. The existing fabric was retained with minimal repair and no additional replacement. However the shell grotto was nearly entirely restored. The approaches were suitable for the different situations telling the story of the house, which has seen much dilapidation before its resurrection by the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Whereas the purpose of the shell grotto would have been lost without completely restoring its interior which creates its fantasy atmosphere.  In many ways both Stoke sub-Hamdon Priory and the Manor Court House in Chard are at risk of being lost and their stories forgotten if new uses are not found for their buildings.

Scholars and Fellows hit the conservation trail

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

Scholars and Fellows on the scaffolding at Hampton Court Palace

This year’s Scholars and Fellows have started their countrywide tour. They have a packed programme to look forward to that will run from March to December.

The group have already visited the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, where they have had a practical bricklaying session. In the next few weeks they can look forward to lead welding at Norman and Underwood, the lead-casters who made the King Richard III ossuary and the kind sponsors of the Scholars’ car this year, an introduction to milling at Charlecote Mill in Warwick and timber framing at the Kent Woodland Centre.

In the coming months their travels will take them to significant conservation projects, workshops and studios in all parts of the country where they will  learn about traditional building techniques from skilled craftspeople who have already established careers in the field. Don’t miss out on any blog posts, sign up for email updates from the Scholars and Fellows blog.

Image from left to right: Niall Bird, David Burdon, Oliver Wilson, Emma Teale, Joe Coombes-Jackman, Ben Hornberger and Joanna Daykin.

 

Mediterranean Conservation

by Charlie Wellingham,

This year the Scholars were invited to visit the fortified city of Valletta on the island of Malta, to experience alternative approaches to conservation and management of heritage in a cultural and political climate (as well as weather climate!) to that of the United Kingdom. Witnessing the successes and challenges of international projects is a great way to reflect on the frameworks that we operate within back home, evidencing where they are strong and where they could benefit from improvement. This includes the systems for funding, statutory permissions and management of sites, as well as the procurement of projects and control of quality of work on site. During this intensive week we attended 18 sites in 5 days, and as representatives of the SPAB we were able to raise the profile of the philosophies of conservative repair with the new contacts we met.

Although small, Malta is the perfect location for this kind of trip as it has such a dense and diverse history, from the neolithic settlements of immigrants from Sicily in 5000 BC, through the centuries of conquest and occupation by nearly every seafaring empire of Europe and Africa. The island was given to the Knights of the Order of St.John by King Philip of Spain in 1530, as an outpost for the hospitallers to treat the wounded coming back from Crusades. The city of Valletta began construction in the 1560s following the Knights’ survival of a devastating siege by the Ottoman armies of Saladin – fortified and designed to be fully self-sufficient to ensure its impregnability for future centuries. Valetta lays claim to being amongst Europe’s oldest fully planned ‘new’ cities; an interesting example of its insightful design was the requirement of all houses inside the city walls to have a below-ground water cistern and food store (for surviving potential siege), and that the stone excavated in the basement construction should be exactly the amount of stone required to build the dwelling above. Below is a quick description of some of the week’s highlights.

St.John’s Co-Cathedral (1560s)
We were invited to observe the conservative repairs of the limestone West Elevation, with Jean Frendo of the Malta Restoration Directorate. This includes raking out previous cement pointing, pinning stone indents where required with stainless steel rods and epoxy resins, cleaning the stonework with brushes and poultices, and strengthening fragile carvings with ammonium-oxalate consolidants. It was interesting to hear that lime work cannot be carried out when the temperatures exceed 25 degrees centigrade – and as such the ‘lime season’ is throughout the winter months (the opposite practice to the UK!).

Scaffold, Malta

The Church of Our Lady of Valletta (1560s)
Maria Grazia of heritage body Din L’Art Helwa introduced us to the conservators working on the painted ceiling of Valletta’s oldest church (and the first building completed when city construction began). The painted ceiling is being cleaned and repaired by conservators from the Courtauld Institute in London, supporting the loose surface where it has flaked away from its substrate with a weak lime putty plaster. It was interesting to see the meeting of differing approaches between the Maltese client, and the UK conservators.

Ceiling, Valetta, Malta
Hagir Qim Neolithic site (c.3000 BC)
The recently completed protective canopy at Hagar Qim is designed to protect the exposed archaeological remains at this Unesco World Heritage site, and is a controversially invasive proposal. Various options were proposed for slowing the increasing decay of the limestone (including re-burying the site that was only discovered at the beginning of the 20th Century), and the tent structure as built was designed to meet the ground in as few locations as possible. We spent some time debating the appropriateness of the scheme and its complex pros and cons, including the potential creation of an unpredictable new micro-climate beneath the canopy, the loss of the site’s connection to it’s coastline landscape, and its usefulness in the improved management of tourist footfall and infrastructure.

Malta

City Gate Project (2014)
The centre-piece development of Renzo Piano’s Valletta masterplan, which was begun in 1989, is the creation of a new city gate and head quarters building for the Maltese parliament. We were shown around the live site by local architect Guilliame Dreyfuss from partner practice Architecture Projects. It was interesting to see this new design working in and around the historic fabric, conserving and repairing former wounds at an urban scale – piecing the ruined Opera House back into the city with new pedestrian routes and squares. The gate itself is an interesting design exercise, exemplifying a bold contemporary statement that still honours the history of such a significant location and its many former incarnations.

Malta

Many thanks to former Scholar Charlie de Bono for his time in preparing the site visits on our behalf – and chaperoning us for the week! It was a fantastic opportunity to get under the skin of a fascinating historic city.

Sketch by Charlie Wellingham